Gregorius is surprise star in Yankees victory

Lynn Henning
The Detroit News

Detroit — Rip open any one-run baseball game and defensive plays so often tell the story of a team’s triumph.

The Yankees made more of them Thursday night at Comerica Park as they punched out the Tigers, 5-4.

And it was shortstop Didi Gregorius who factored in all of them.

Gregorius, who was supposed to have had a night off, was instead summoned by Yankees manager Joe Girardi as a defensive replacement after the Yankees had rallied to take a 5-1 lead.

The Yankees were still on top, 5-2, in the eighth when Miguel Cabrera and Justin Upton walked. It spurred Tigers manager Brad Ausmus to draft Ian Kinsler, who like Gregorius was getting a break, as a pinch-hitter for Jarrod Saltalamacchia.

Kinsler ripped an Andrew Miller pitch hard to left for a double that scored Cabrera and threatened to score Upton, who was being windmilled home by third-base coach Dave Clark.

Brett Gardner relayed to Gregorius, who riveted a throw to catcher Austin Romine, who happens to have a brother, Andrew, in a Tigers uniform.

The Tigers were of the opinion Romine had blocked Upton, which is supposedly alien to rules introduced in 2014. But a replay exonerated Romine and the Yankees.

“We’ve gotten into the habit of avoiding catchers,” said J.D. Martinez, who from Detroit’s dugout had seen the play unfurl.

“In a normal game,” Martinez said, meaning a pre-2014 game, “J (Upton) goes right through him.”

Upton had to agree. He also was able to live with the fact Gregorius’ relay had nailed him.

“I knew I was out,” said Upton, who also wanted a rules interpretation on Romine’s block. “But against one of the better bullpens in baseball, you’ve got to challenge them on that play.”

Gregorius later helped snuff the Tigers in the ninth after they had loaded the bases with no outs in a 5-3 game.

J.D. Martinez slashed a hard grounder against Aroldis Chapman that looked as if it were bound for center field. Gregorius instead snared it and, in tandem with a bare-handed grab and throw by Starlin Marte, wiped out the Tigers with a double play on which a single ninth-inning run scored.

“It was a nice play,” Martinez acknowledged. “That’s the way the ball bounces. A few feet the other way and it’s a tie game and everyone’s happy.”

Let it go?

The Yankees might have gotten a big run in the seventh when Chase Headley scored from second on Rob Refsnyder’s single to left.

Upton fired a throw headed for home plate until third baseman Nick Castellanos cut it off. The Tigers had wanted a shot at Headley.

“I think he could have let that go through,” Ausmus said of Castellanos, although he conceded the play was something of a jump-ball. “That’s hindsight. It’s a tough shot, but it looked like it would be a close call.”

Flip-flop

The Tigers made a roster switch after Thursday’s game when they sent Ryan to Triple A Toledo and brought aboard left-handed reliever Blaine Hardy.

Ryan was 1-1 with a 3.10 ERA in 21 games, allowing 23 hits in 20 1/3 innings. Hardy had a 1.00 ERA in 10 games for the Mud Hens.

Zimmermann returns

Jordan Zimmermann will make his first start Friday in nearly two weeks. Zimmermann strained a groin muscle in his May 22 start against the Rays and had to depart early in what turned into a 9-4 Tigers victory.

The injury didn’t require time on the disabled list. But it interrupted what had been a steady spring of repeat successes for the first-year Tigers pitcher.

Voice switch

The Tigers’ customary play-by-play radio announcer, Dan Dickerson, will miss Friday’s game against the White Sox and Monday’s series opener against Toronto because of family and graduation responsibilities.

He will be replaced tonight by FSD telecaster John Keating. Ken Kal, who is on sabbatical during the Red Wings’ offseason, will fill in for Dickerson on Monday.

Lynn.henning@detroitnews.com

Twitter.com/Lynn_Henning